Governance & Politics
November 21, 2012

Motordom, Massey and what really matters

Two issues that don’t often get into same story:

From the Surrey Leader:

While TransLink asks the public about its plan to selectively cut bus service on some routes, the province is launching its own consultations – on the premier’s recent promise to replace the George Massey Tunnel. …

The existing tunnel has 10 to 15 years of useful life left before major components must be completely replaced, Transportation Minister Mary Polak said.

And since it takes about a decade to plan and build such a project, preliminary work must start now.

“One thing is very clear to us – the status quo is not an option,” Polak said. …

TransLink, meanwhile, is consulting on its plans to further “optimize” service by cutting frequency at some times on some routes in order to boost it on others, where it believes it can serve more riders and pull in more revenue. …

Transit advocates, who see the two decisions as clashing transportation priorities, say it’s ironic TransLink riders in some areas will soon see less service while planning begins for a costly new bridge or tunnel mega-project on Highway 99.

Gordon Price, director of SFU’s City Program, questions the underlying logic.

He says road and bridge projects are routinely justified by politicians on the basis they save motorists time and therefore money by relieving congestion.

Yet the same calculation isn’t applied to transit service cuts that leave passengers waiting longer, arguably costing them and the economy money.

“Time is treated completely differently,” he said, adding transit delays should also be counted as a cost, and not just as a way of saving money.

Peter Ladner, part of the Get On Board coalition for transit funding, also calls it a funding double standard that puts road work ahead of transit.

“Where’s the consultation on sustainable funding for transit?” he asked. “Surely that has to come first.”

So the “status quo is not an option” because the tunnel, opened in 1959, is at the end of its useful life.

By contrast, here is the CN rail bridge over the Fraser at New Westminster – opened in 1904, a critical link to the south, unable to handle the demand, an impediment to high-speed rail, of unquestioned economic importance, and for which the status quo is very much an option.

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A letter to The Province asked this:

Massey tunnel is brutal

Where does SFU city program director Gordon Price get his data indicating less use of the Massey tunnel? He claims a 7.5-per-cent drop from previous years.

Which years? He obviously doesn’t live south of the tunnel.

–  Jim MacDonald, Ladner
From here, Jim. .

The total number of vehicles per day in 2008 was 390,972, which reflects a minor decrease of 2.6% from 401,227 vehicles in 2004; the greatest decreases were at the Deas Tunnel (-7.5%) and the Pattullo Bridge (‐5.8%).

– p. 46,  TransLink 2008 Regional Screenline Survey

Do these facts matter?  They should, of course – how else can we make decisions, set priorities, avoid waste?

But in another way, they don’t – or at least they don’t trump people’s personal perceptions.  When I posted the chart that demonstrated traffic counts have dropped to 1965 levels in and out of downtown Vancouver, said one reader: “Well then, they have to explain why it doesn’t feel that way.”

It’s somewhat analogous to temperature data* that indicate, once again, “the 10 hottest years on record have been in the last 12 years. The 20 hottest years on record have been in the last 30 years. There is a lot of science around this.”  And yet, it matters not a whit to those whose beliefs and benefits would be negatively affected if they acknowledged climate change.

One figure Price can’t mess with: the Massey tunnel is over 50 years old and most assuredly not designed to handle the peak loads being experienced today.

So let’s spend a billion to increase tunnel capacity, worsen congestion downstream, accelerate sprawl upstream, and, after we’ve loaded up with debt, cut funding for transit that might actually make a difference.

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* [T]he last 12 months have been the hottest since recorded-keeping started in 1895, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Average temperatures in the continental US for the month of June were a full 2 degrees above the average for the 20th century. … NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center says that the odds of this heat wave occurring randomly would be 1 in 1,594,323.

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